September 23, 2011
US Space Program ‘Embarrassing,’ Says Armstrong
The firm man to walk on the moon had some strong words for the U.S. space program on Thursday, telling the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology that the retirement of the space shuttle has left it in an "embarrassing" state, according to AFP reports.
"We will have no American access to, and return from, low Earth orbit and the International Space Station for an unpredictable length of time in the future," former astronaut Neil Armstrong, one of four space experts testifying before the committee, said, according to a September 22 report by Kerry Sheridan of the French news agency.
"For a country that has invested so much for so long to achieve a leadership position in space exploration and exploitation, this condition is viewed by many as lamentably embarrassing and unacceptable," the 81-year-old Apollo 11 commander said.
"The past year has been frustrating to NASA observers," Armstrong added, according to a separate report by Stewart Powell of the Houston Chronicle. "The leadership enthusiastically assured the American people that the agency was embarking on an exciting new age of discovery in the cosmos“¦ But the realities of the termination of the shuttle program, the cancellation of existing rocket launcher and spacecraft programs, the layoffs of thousands of aerospace workers, and the outlook for American space activity throughout the next decade were difficult to reconcile with the agency assertions."
Armstrong and fellow astronaut Eugene Cernan, who in 1972 became the last American to walk on the moon, "criticized the pace, scope and resources devoted to manned space exploration" during testimony before the House committee, Powell said. The pair made similar comments when speaking to the panel in May of last year, the Chronicle reporter added.
"Get the shuttle out of the garage down there at Kennedy (Space Center), crank up the motors and put it back in service," Cernan, the Apollo 17 flight commander, said, according to the AFP. "You want a launch vehicle today that will service the ISS? We've got it sitting down there. So before we put it in a museum, let's make use of it. It's in the prime of its life, how could we just put it away?"
"We are at a crossroads," he added, according to Powell. "If we abdicate our leadership in space today, not only is human spaceflight and space exploration at risk, but I believe the future of this country and thus the future of our children and grandchildren as well“¦ Now is the time to be bold, innovative and wise in how we invest in the future of America. Now is the time to re-establish our nation´s commitment to excellence. It is not about space -- it's about the country."
With President Barack Obama's cancellation of the Constellation program, which would have returned humans to the moon, and the retirement of the 30-some year old space shuttle program in July, the U.S. is currently without domestic means to send astronauts into space.
Currently, NASA relies upon Russian owned and operated Soyuz capsules to carry equipment, supplies, and astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), at a cost of $50 to $60 million per person, according to Sheridan. In the meantime, they are investing in private-sector development, which could lead to a new commercial space vehicle within the next four years, according to reports.
Cernan said that the cancelled Constellation mission had been replaced by a "mission to nowhere" and argued that the modern U.S. space program was on a "path of decay."
"We are seeing the book close on five decades of accomplishment as the leader in human space exploration," the AFP article quoted him as saying. "As unimaginable as it seems, we have now come full circle and ceded our leadership role in space back to the same country -- albeit by a different name -- that spurred our challenge five decades ago."
In a statement released following Armstrong's and Cernan's testimony, NASA spokesman David Weaver said that the administration respected their contributions to the program, and added, "Just as their ambitious missions captivated the nation´s attention nearly a half-century ago, today's American space explorers are leading the way to even farther destinations that will one day allow the first astronauts to set foot on Mars."
"It is a bold vision laid out by President Obama and Congress, in bi-partisan fashion, to pioneer new frontiers, push the bounds of exploration, and test the limits of innovation and technological development," Weaver added, according to the Chronicle. "It is a plan that will ensure America´s continued leadership in space with science missions that will rewrite textbooks, invests in innovative technologies that will put Americans to work in new jobs, and develops new space vehicles to explore farther into the universe than any nation has ever gone before."
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